Nancy Drew, sophisticate.

The new Nancy Drew movie is being heavily promoted on the tele– yes,  I do watch programming meant for thirteen-year-olds– and it’s re-kindled my interest in all things Nancy. As I’ve mentioned earlier on this blog, I grew up on the mystery series, starting them when I was seven. The books added substantially to my childhood vocabulary; words like ‘titian’ and  ‘convertible’  were familiar only because this titian-haired girl detective zipped along in her blue convertible solving mystery after mystery. Incidentally, Nancy started out blonde and morphed into a redhead later.  In her first adventure “The Secret of the Old Clock” (which I just happen to own), she’s described as a “blonde, blue-eyed”… “attractive girl of eighteen”; by the time of “The Clue of the Dancing Puppet” though, she’s gone red.

After reading A.O. Scott’s review of the film in this week’s New York Times, I’m realizing how differently I approached  the Nancy Drew series. The review says:

The great appeal of the Nancy Drew books (the first was published in 1930), as of any mystery-novel series, lies not in the static, predictable characters but in the intricate, well-carpentered plots. What keeps the readers’ eyes on the page is the chance to look over the detective’s shoulder as she puzzles over clues, and to feel the tingle of apprehension when her sleuthing begins to get her in trouble.

No, no, and no. The mystery was never the appeal. Chapter 1 of “The Secret of the Old Clock” mentions a missing will, and even my seven-year-old self could guess then that directions to the will (if not the actual will) probably lay in an old clock. What fascinated me was Nancy Drew, who seemed the very personification of American cool. She received a car from her father for a birthday present! (My parents took me to the neighbourhood temple on my birthday.) She drank sodas and went to dances and camps! (Cola was Satan’s spit in my home.) She had exotic foods like strawberries and waffles at home! (I ate rice and white bread everyday). And most thrilling–she had a boyfriend that her father knew about. All terribly exciting for a seven-year-old girl in New Delhi who thought being an “air-hostess” was the height of glamor. 

What I really cherished, I think, was Nancy’s effortless charm–anyone who wasn’t a villian loved Nancy and wanted to help her. She seemed to lead such a carefree life. The Nancy Drew I loved was popular and smart and over-all fabulous.

According to the review, however, the film makes Nancy the opposite of glamorous. She is, rather, a celebration of “heartland earnestness” and “sincerity”. She’s a bit nerdy, definitely small-town, and doesn’t fit into the glitzy Hollywood surroundings she finds herself in.

What were they thinking?

Nancy Drew is still part of my life. Whenever I need to spell my name out, (which, with a name like Niranjana, happens everyday), I go “N as in Nancy”, and think of the intrepid young detective. I don’t think I can see a film that reduces my American idol to a mystery-solving misfit, so I’ll be giving this one a miss.


10 thoughts on “Nancy Drew, sophisticate.

  1. I still remember a Nancy Drew book scaring the bejeesus out of me… can’t remember the title, but at some point she wakes up to find someone has left a scorpion on her pillow. Never fear, she dismantles it safely and falls back to sleep, but the thought frightened me to no end.

    This was one of the later ND books, though — one of the 1990s versions where Nancy breaks up international spy rings. Much more violent than the originals.

    I, too, am thoroughly disappointed that they’ve made her a self-conscious nerd, and that they’ve made her look so (sorry to say) plain. We need our heroines to be prettier than us so we can have something to which to aspire! ^__^

  2. Satan’s spit ? LOL. Enjoyed your post. But have to say that I absolutely hated the Nancy Drew series – she never struck me as a “real” detective. The books were always full of such lucky “coincidences”, like I remember in one book Nancy is trying to track down a guy with a particular habit, and her boyfriend Ned happens to be on the same plane with this guy, AND notices this peculiar habit (something with the guy’s fingers), AND tells Nancy about it, and voila! she has a lead. Oh, yeah and someone steals one car, and rich Daddy dearest is at hand to buy her another – gimme a break ! I enjoyed “The 3 Investigators” (Jupiter, Pete and Bob) much more.

  3. awwww Nancy Drew was fabulous and her gay friend George and her plump friend Beth who they always mentioned was plump and Ned! who can forget Ned?

  4. Blue: I have to check out the 1990s Nancy Drew…international spy ring? What next–girl detective captures Bin Laden?

    Anil: Thanks for stopping by! And for confirming that boys read the series too 🙂

    Amodini: thanks! And OMG, I remember that scene–the guy wants to join Ned’s group but he refuses… I read the Three Investigators too–in fact, the first time I heard of Rhyming Slang was from one of these books.

    Pri: Thanks for stopping by! And was George gay? I remember her having a boyfriend in one of the later books–but perhaps I’m imagining it…

  5. Just passing by…agree 100% with your reasons for liking the Nancy Drew series. As a ten-year old I wished I would grow up to be like her.

    @Pri:George was a tomboy, yes – but gay?! This is the first I have heard of it.

  6. Pingback: Down-home Nancy Drew? | DesiPundit

  7. For me, your reasons and A.O. Scott’s came together: Nancy was wish fulfillment, and the ease of guessing at least some of the mysteries or major clues furthered the fantasy that I, too, could grow up to be just like Nancy.

  8. @ Elizabeth: I didn’t aspire to Nancyhood–she was too much of a celebrity! But it’s instructive (and also plain weird) to note how much of an impact she had on girls a continent and a generation away.

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